Mark Davies, winner of the 2010 Travel Photo of the Year competition (Wildlife category) talks about his trip to Australia's Northern Territory
We’re moving on again after breakfast but first of all I make it my business to track down and photograph the camp’s resident Kookaburra. Mission accomplished, it’s into the dining room for bacon and eggs while the ladies prepare excitedly for their chartered helicopter trip to a nearby rock art site. It’s just a boring old light aircraft for us though and we’re soon back on board for the short but still spectacular flight back, around Mount Borradaile and over the wetlands, to the town of Jabiru.
Our next appointment is at Ubirr, another important rock art site and significant local landmark. The short ascent affords more spectacular views of the endless surrounding arboreal wilderness, with the ambling human figures on its summit reduced to matchstick figures on its epic canvas.
On our descent we view the art, and Kelda explains that aboriginal art can be categorised into different styles that evolved over the epochs that the culture has existed, with Ubirr exhibiting three of these – “naïve”,” x-ray” (showing the bones and insides of its subjects) and “contact”. In a sudden departure from stylised representations of spirits and animals, the latter style starkly depicts sailing ships and guns. The style is simplistic, but probably couldn’t capture this seismic moment in history any more evocatively – the time when everything changed and nothing would ever be the same again for these people.
Our journey continues westwards to Wildman Wilderness Lodge in the Mary River region, which will be our final stay on the trip. Arriving late in the afternoon, we settle into our newly built lodge overlooking an old airstrip which now serves as a grazing ground for rock wallabies and, beyond that, a field of termite mounds that resembles a mini Stonehenge or Avebury. As dusk begins to descend huge flocks of Corellas, a type of white parrot, return for a final feed of the day on the airstrip and to roost in the surrounding trees. Our lenses are drawn to the spectacle of the mass take-offs and landings, while the skittish wallabies wheel around in their midst.
The best is saved until last, however. As the sun dips to the horizon, the low cloud cover catalyses a spectacular show – imbuing a palette of blacks, blues, reds and golds with a sponge-like texture that you almost feel you can reach out and touch.
“This sunset is better than Borradaile”, I think to myself.
The last full day of the trip begins with a stately cruise on the local billabong. Neddy, our amiable aboriginal guide is our guide on the limpid waters as we search for the notorious “Big Arse”, the resident giant saltie whose portrait adorns the dunny (that’s toilet to you and I) wall at the lodge.
Save for the restive sea eagles, all seems quiet as we use the hiatus to take the opportunity to focus on the abundant water lily blooms that grace the surface of the billabong – a long lens and a wide aperture diffuses the blooms to a Monet-like palette of pinks, whites and greens. Neddy retrieves a lily root from beneath the surface and slices it open to reveal the nutritious bush tucker inside, which resembles a fig. Just as we head back for dry land, Big Arse elects to show himself – the scales that corrugate his huge back and tail briefly crenellate the water, the stone green eye notes, but not does acknowledge, our presence, and he slowly slips back down to the depths at a time entirely of his own choosing.
A late morning excursion to another local billabong, the highlight of which is a viewing platform encrusted with more spiders’ webs than Mrs Havisham’s parlour (and all of the owner – occupier orb spiders are at home), is followed by a late afternoon walk through the termite mounds in front of the lodge. A futile attempt to shoot an elusive jabiru stork through the vegetation is soon abandoned in favour of the more amenable Rainbow Bee-Eaters perching and feeding in the nearby trees. As we edge gradually closer our subject obliges by returning with a dragon fly in its beak and feeds on it directly above us, the light being angled in just the right way to illuminate its scarlet eye. It’s the last great photo opportunity of a week that has been packed full of them before we retire to the restaurant and bar. Outside, a squadron of dragonflies the size of Lancaster bombers hoovers up the dust cloud of flying insects attracted by the lights, as we reflect on our journey together through this amazing primordial land. We reflect on its incredible wildlife and scenery, and the ancient history which imbues a real sense of tangible antiquity, as my thoughts begin to turn towards the considerable task of sorting through the thousands of photos I’ve taken on the trip.
Follow Mark's journey around Australia's Northern Territory here:
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